Seattle is my hometown. Born and bred. We have a historical movement called “Lesser Seattle” which tries to keep people away. We over-emphasize our reputation for rain, hoping that will keep you away. We had a terrible depression in 1970, epitomized by the billboard near our airport “Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights.” The U-Haul dealers in town were completely out of trailers.
But today, we are miserable failures at being small—Seattle is now the fastest growing city in the country. The city is a forest of construction cranes, and has been for a couple years. The engine of our economy is not just Boeing, as it was in the old days (lumber and fishing in the really old days).
Now we’ve diversified, but Amazon is leading the tech pack these days, building snazzy new 40 story towers downtown for its headquarters. Apartments are being built left and right to accommodate the newly arrived and newly hired. The jobs are a magnet—jobs for construction workers, jobs for tech people, jobs for restaurant and service workers who take care of everyone’s daily needs. So is everyone happy?
No, not at all. You can guess the rub—housing can’t keep up, even with hundreds of new units being built. As supply relative to demand goes down, rents go up. Some can afford it, but many can’t. Even with our $15 minimum wage going into effect, many fully employed Seattleites have to double up in tiny spaces, live in cars, and camp with friends outside town.
A 2015 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition www.nlihc.org/oor has created a clear and graphic review of housing problems state by state. They’ve created an interactive map backed up by pages of statistics showing the hourly wage that a household must earn working full time in order to rent a 2 bedroom apartment without paying more than 30% (the amount insurers and financial experts have always suggested is the most someone should pay for housing) of their income for it.
In Washington State, such a household would have to earn almost $22/hr. There are nine other states where the minimum wage would have to be over $20/hr. Think about it—take a look at the report, look up your state and then imagine having a job but no home. A lot of people don’t have to imagine it—they’re living it.